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World Internet freedom keeps eroding

Friday 30 October 2015, by SIGNIS

Brussels, New York, October 30th, 2015 (Freedom House/Ucanews/SIGNIS/I Verbrugge). This week, the NGO Freedom House released its report “Freedom on the web 2015”. The result is clear: world Internet freedom keeps eroding. For the fifth consecutive year, more nations are censoring information online and demanding that companies and individuals remove content or face retribution.

The report says that 58% of the world’s population lives in a country where a blogger or an Internet user has been arrested for publishing contents on line. Since June 2014, freedom on the web has regressed in 32 countries out of the 65 analyzed. The report classifies the countries in three categories: the free countries, the partly-free countries and the non-free countries. Amongst the censured subject, we find contents criticizing the authorities, corruption assumptions, satire, political opposition, blasphemy or mobilization for public causes.

For Freedom House, there are three main causes for this regression:

  • Governments now have a tendency to ask for the removal of the content rather than a simple blocking. Indeed, if the content os blocked, it is possible, with the right tools, to find it. If it’s removed, there is no way to find it.
  • Also, there are more and more intimidations threats and arrests. Of the 65 countries reviewed, 40 imprisoned people for sharing political or social content through digital networks.
  • Finally, surveillance laws and technologies are on the rise, for the third consecutive year. Governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance over the past year.

Out of the 65 countries analyzed by the report, China is the last one. China has further tightened control of the Internet, developing new cyber weapons to attack enemies while extending prison terms for those who violate loosely defined rules. The world’s most populous country, with 640 million Internet users is also starting to drag down Hong Kong’s online freedoms. "Over the past year, the renewed emphasis on information control led to acts of unconcealed aggression against Internet freedom," stated the Freedom House report, released Oct. 28.

China continued to add to its long list of banned websites over the past year. Facebook and Twitter continued to be blocked, so too religious sites including the ucanews.com Chinese language homepage. In March, China added to its growing list of banned overseas news websites in blocking access to Reuters.

In January, authorities reportedly upgraded the "Great Firewall" that filters all traffic in and out of China amid a drive toward "cyberspace sovereignty" under President Xi Jinping. This followed a total block against Google sites six months earlier, around the 25-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 2014.

In a bid to pressure social media users, authorities have launched a campaign requiring users on Wechat and Weibo to register their true identities. From Nov. 1, those spreading "rumors" online will face a longer maximum prison term of up to seven years, state media reported this week.

Iceland is the first one on the list, followed by Estonia, Canada, Germany, Australia, USA, Japan and Italy.

To read the whole report, click here.

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